Mechanics unlocks the morphogenetic puzzle of interlocking bivalved shells


Moulton, D
Goriely, A
Chirat, R

Publication Date: 

16 December 2019


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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Brachiopods and mollusks are 2 shell-bearing phyla that diverged from a common shell-less ancestor more than 540 million years ago. Brachiopods and bivalve mollusks have also convergently evolved a bivalved shell that displays an apparently mundane, yet striking feature from a developmental point of view: When the shell is closed, the 2 valve edges meet each other in a commissure that forms a continuum with no gaps or overlaps despite the fact that each valve, secreted by 2 mantle lobes, may present antisymmetric ornamental patterns of varying regularity and size. Interlocking is maintained throughout the entirety of development, even when the shell edge exhibits significant irregularity due to injury or other environmental influences, which suggests a dynamic physical process of pattern formation that cannot be genetically specified. Here, we derive a mathematical framework, based on the physics of shell growth, to explain how this interlocking pattern is created and regulated by mechanical instabilities. By close consideration of the geometry and mechanics of 2 lobes of the mantle, constrained both by the rigid shell that they secrete and by each other, we uncover the mechanistic basis for the interlocking pattern. Our modeling framework recovers and explains a large diversity of shell forms and highlights how parametric variations in the growth process result in morphological variation. Beyond the basic interlocking mechanism, we also consider the intricate and striking multiscale-patterned edge in certain brachiopods. We show that this pattern can be explained as a secondary instability that matches morphological trends and data.

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Publication Type: 

Journal Article